World Exclusive: Ducati Multistrada 1200S - Multiple Choice

Everything All The Time

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Joe Neric, Kevin Wing

That's a Ducati? Yes, sports fans, and more to the point, you're looking at the Ducati. Bologna's standard-bearer in the brave new world to come: the Multistrada 1200S. Assembled mere days ago and air-freighted to Ducati North America headquarters here in the aorta of California's Silicon Valley just for us, the first and only example of the breed cools unceremoniously in the afternoon sun. The visiting dignitary from Ducati Mexico who just warmed it up is at a loss for words. "It feels so light. Quick. And fast." It's a Ducati all right. But that's the sort of adrenal euphoria usually induced by 30 minutes on an 1198S, not a Multistrada. That's because beyond its name and mission statement, this one is completely, emphatically, unequivocally different. Officially, this is a Big Deal-una Grande Cosa-for Ducati. with untold millions of lire riding on its success.

That explains the pitched battle back at the home office. Should something this different be called a Multistrada at all? What about guilt by association? What if the blandness of the father is visited upon the son? They shouldn't have worried. If the styling doesn't tell you this Multi has nothing to do with the '03 original, one quick ride should do the trick. Just to make sure, make that a quick, 427-mile ride from DNA's Cupertino headquarters to Motorcyclist's palatial new digs in El Segundo. In the interest of science and staying out of jail, why not invite the missus along to help sort out the bike's multiple personalities? If there's a chink in its shiny new all-purpose armor, we'll find it. But first, a quick pre-flight from Customer Service Manager Tony Munoz to get things started.

Thumbing the red switch to the right with the electronic key fob in your pocket communicates with the bike once you're within a 6-foot radius, initiating roughly the same computing power contained in Nicky Hayden's Desmosedici GP10 MotoGP racer. Ride-by-Wire throttle, Ducati Traction Control, Bosch-Brembo ABS and Ducati Electronic Suspension by Öhlins are all administered according to your chosen ride mode-Sport, Touring, Urban or Enduro-and switchable on the fly via the turn-signal button. That same button also lets you firm up the fork and shock for a passenger, baggage or the absence thereof. Pushing those buttons in the proper sequence lets you revise the aforementioned factory settings, but fear not: There's a default reset on the menu to restore order if you find yourself inexorably bollocked. An actual key flicks out of said fob to unlock the seat and fuel cap. Slide that red power switch up and push the starter. Hold it down again when you want to power down. Hit it again when you want to lock the steering. Got all that? Sure you do. Have a nice ride...

After one last demitasse of inspiration from the corporate espresso machine, it's time to light the 1198cc Testastretta fire. Pre-production fuel mapping makes our bike a bit cold-blooded. Otherwise? No worries. The crush of Tuesday-night traffic in any major metro is usually enough to ruffle any Ducati, but not this one. Percolating through bumper-to-bumper humanity is easy. Instant-on power and 76 degrees of steering sweep make this the next best thing to an urban trials bike. Gearing is relatively tall, but the new wet clutch handles miles of big-city abuse with quiet cooperation. Aside from a minor lean surge on either side of 3000 rpm the factory needs to iron out of the map, fueling is perfect. Change from Touring to Urban, then Enduro mode makes the southbound slog easier, cueing the liquid-cooled, eight-valve V-twin to make more torque from fewer revs and softening the suspension for a more comfortable ride-instantly. We like. Switching modes is easy after a few miles. Pretty soon we're doing it just to take the edge off the occasional rough stretch of freeway or to boost bottom-end response while peeling into suburbia for fuel. Drilling down through a couple of dash menus lets us tailor individual suspension parameters in each mode to deliver the perfect ride: taut but compliant with no harsh aftertaste on hostile square-edged jolts. Mrs. Carrithers doesn't do harsh.

She's happy with the pillion accommodations by the time we hit Salinas. There's plenty of room to stretch long legs below a nicely shaped passenger seat that's just high enough to see more scenery than the back of Mr. Carrithers' helmet. Rider accommodations are generous in the vertical dimension, but by King City it becomes clear that tall riders may wish for more wriggle room between the stepped seat and that tapered-steel handlebar. The ensuing riding position focuses body weight on a point directly below your tailbone, but the seat is still good enough to reel in two hours of U.S. 101 before the dreaded butt-burn says it's time to get off. After topping off the tank, it's all blue skies and big, fluffy clouds for another hour or three.

Now it's getting dark. That sunset was nice, but by 9:15 p.m. our annoyance threshold is dropping faster than the air-temperature gauge. Meanwhile, the Ducati does nothing to offend, turning 4000 rpm into a steady 73 mph in sixth gear. The engine's subtle mechanical presence is well below anything you could call vibration-rubber handlebar mounts help on that count-but there is enough to turn rear-view mirror images into a blurry mess. It's tough to tell an encroaching CHP cruiser from a '77 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser after dark. On the plus side, rubber inserts in the sawtooth steel pegs stop annoying vibes before they reach your feet. That slim, manually adjustable windscreen and hand guards steer most of the Central Coast chill around us without injecting any turbulence of its own. Leaving the four-lane behind at Paso Robles, the rolling hills beyond the reach of the 1200's excellent headlights are as dark as the inside of a cow.

This latest Testastretta engine is happiest above 3800 rpm, which makes passing slower freeway traffic easier in fifth gear. It delivers enough juice from 4500 rpm to earn your undivided attention with lurid second-gear power-wheelies in Sport mode...later. Cycling through the circular dot-matrix dash display gives us a quick idea of what's going on. It's 52 degrees outside the cockpit. We're averaging 44 miles per gallon and getting 36 rolling around another lumbering Kenworth. At that rate, the remaining half-tank should last another 98 miles. We're not quite ready to bet the farm on that number, but an approximate estimate beats doing the math in your head. Right now we need more of this smooth, linear thrust please. Just the thing for covering a lot of ground in a little time without overheating the neural circuits. Who said computers don't make life easier?

Off The Record
Ari Henning, Associate Editor
Age: 25 Height: 5'10"
Weight: 175 lbs. Inseam: 33 in.
The first thing I noticed on the new Multistrada was the saddle. This thing is like an Aaron Chair compared to the original model's plank of a seat. At just under 6 feet I'm barely able to touch my tip-toes, but once underway the ergonomics are perfect and the handling balances the Hypermotard's responsiveness with the ST3's stability. The engine is freakishly powerful in the midrange, but off-idle fueling is iffy and the motor inexplicably stalled several times while rolling to a stop. The electronically controlled suspension is cool, but I'm not too keen on the overprotective ABS and DTC-I'm grown up enough to be trusted with the throttle and brakes. If I had the choice, I'd tell Ducati to keep those two options and give me an electronically controlled windshield and heated grips. Overall the Multi is a very impressive machine, and one I'd be thrilled to ride from here to just about any destination on earth.

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